By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Former governor of Ekiti State and current Deputy National Chairman (South) of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Segun Oni, is one of the aspirants in the coming governorship election in the state. In this interview, he declared that no vestiges of the incumbent governor, Ayodele Fayose and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would be left after the July 2018 gubernatorial poll.
Your party just had its NEC and caucus meetings. With all that happened, where does the party go from here?
Forward! I can say it emphatically and without any doubt at all that the party is moving forward. We had successful rounds of meetings at the caucus and National Executive Council (NEC) levels.
Are you saying that those who felt aggrieved in one form or the other have finally agreed to move on with the party?
A political party is a family. In family relationship, you don’t get perfection all the time. But you get a reasonable level of acceptance that makes everybody feel good with a sense of belonging. Therefore, we may not have got a perfect situation, but we are good. I believe everybody feels good about where we are and where we are going.
Some critics of your party have described the open endorsement of President Muhammadu Buhari for another term of office as treading the path of the PDP. Isn’t it so?
First, let me say it clearly that there was no formal motion endorsing the President because he himself didn’t want it done. But you could see it from reactions in the hall that, if it were to be put to vote, more than 90 per cent would have voted for it. But it is being reserved for another time. We are facing the business of governance right now. When the time comes, we will get to the bank of that river, and we will cross it.
The Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, while giving account of his stewardship at your NEC meeting was reported to have given you the assurance that there will be no more importation of rice from 2018. Is that not rhetoric rather than a reality?
It is a reality that people are growing rice. I was in Kebbi State and I saw it as a new way of prosperity. In fact, you can no longer call any of those involved in rice farming to come and take up political appointments. They will not answer you because they know how much they are making from growing rice. And this trend is all over the place. If you are driving from Abuja to Jos, what you see on both sides of the road is full return of farming activities which will result in prosperity. What is going on now is very exciting. We can only hope that in no distance future, we will have no cause to import any of those items we are importing now.
The president also did say in his address at the same meeting that Nigeria is now more credit worthy than before. Is that the reason the government is borrowing so much now even to an alarming level?
I always believe; and this is personal, that when you are credit worthy, it is an opportunity for you. If you see any area of opportunity that you can apply the fund to and do very well, nothing inhibits you. Lack of credit worthiness itself is a handicap. No matter what opportunity you can find, you will not be able to access it because nobody will be willing to listen to you and agree to extend credit to you. We are not in that situation, we thank God. The second thing I want people to know is that if you borrow for good purposes and you manage it properly, it will enhance the economy. I am sure Nigerians have no doubt about that with regards to President Buhari. We are borrowing to invest in the future. And this future investment is highly necessary. There is this mentality that debt is bad. The history of Nigeria’s debt burden of old does not apply here because what those monies were borrowed for was not achieved. But now, if we borrow for railway, it will be done. If we borrow to have highway, it will be done. And all these will add up to infrastructure base of Nigeria which will move us forward. The country that will not borrow in our circumstances will be very few. Borrowing is appropriate for us at this material time. And we have no doubt that whatever is borrowed will be appropriately applied.
Applying it properly is one thing and having payment plan is another thing. Is there any concrete plan for repayment?
Applying it properly also means that what the money is being expended on will bring a kind of returns that will give us the leverage to pay back. There is no doubt that the loans this government has taken are being applied in a way that will bring some kind of returns.
You are a grassroots person and there is no doubt that you interact with the ordinary people. Would you say that APC as a party with its change mantra has fulfilled its electoral promises?
The yearnings and aspiration of Nigerian people are not the performance of government magic. It is about stability of the economy such that the problems that were stirring us in the face before this government came in are adequately dealt with. The government promised security because security then was a big threat. Recall that Boko Haram had occupied some parts of the territory of this country with their flag flying. It was very scary. If you saw what happened in Syria, you will know how scary it could be. We thank God, all that is gone. Yes, there are still pockets of insurgency, but not as elevated any longer. The rest is being taken care of by the military. Corruption which had become a monster is also being fought relentlessly by the government and we are getting positive results. Before this administration came in, it was not just the stealing of budget, but the stealing of everything, including diversion of revenue to private pockets. The Nigerian economy suffered from corruption. Taking care of the economy and corruption are two major points. We were once in a recession. But thank God, we are out of it. Let us not forget the fact that two or three years ago, some people were forecasting that there would be famine in this country. But we have gone through two December periods and there is no famine. Yes, food prices are very high. It is a function of the law of demand and supply. Of course, people will complain. It is a complaint between two brothers. The one producing will believe the price should be higher, the one who consumes will believe the price should be lower. That is better for us because it is not the price of imported goods that we are talking about here. It is the price of locally produced food stuff. The amount of money we spend importing food is still very high. I believe import bill will continue to go down as it is going down now.
Are you saying that if APC is to face another election today, it will enjoy the kind of support, the goodwill and popularity that brought in this government in 2015?
First, there is a trust element; a trust that people are now realizing is not misplaced. Again, there is productivity element. Farmers have improved their productivity and improved their earnings. Those guys know what it used to be under the previous administrations and what it is now. They know the difference in the operating environment and who is responsible for that operating environment. I can tell you that if elections are held today, we would win with even a higher margin than we won previously because in a lot of places where we didn’t have sufficient votes, people are now having a rethink about their hostility to this government. There are places where they sold dummy of ethnicity, religion and so on. But all those are no longer tenable because people are now beginning to ask questions. Nigerians are beginning to show better understanding of the dynamics of politics. The attempt to further divide us on issues of session is not flying. So, it will be much easier for us to win in 2019.
In a situation where a number of APC states are not paying workers’ salaries?
(Cuts in)… A number of PDP states are also owing workers’ salaries. In fact, if you have to use payment of workers’ salary as indices, you will discover that virtually in all parts of the country, there will be no winners. But that is not it. This is where also accountability becomes very important. Where were these states before the coming of this administration in terms of salaries? We pretend as if all salaries were paid as and when due as at the eve of coming of this government. The burden of salary arrears talk for itself. I believe with the determination with which the President is pursuing this subject matter with the governors, it will soon be a thing of the past.
You are interested in Ekiti governorship race as well as other powerful aspirants. How would you achieve a rancour-free primary that you will ensure a united front against the sitting governor who has become a godfather in the state?
You have just reiterated what we believe should be and what we are all singing about that we all must work towards having a free, fair and transparent primary so that everybody will be happy and feel good. And I always add my own caveat. If we have the primary today and somebody else wins in a free and transparent primary, I will work for that person, I will work for my party. I believe every other person will see it that way. And I know that my colleagues at the national secretariat here will do everything to make the primary process free, fair and transparent.
Then, you have the political godfather of Ekiti State to confront.
(Cuts in)…That is not a problem for us.
He is a grassroots man.
(Cuts in)…. We are also part of the grassroots. That has never been a problem for us. We all know ourselves. There is no need shouting about what will be. When the time comes, Nigeria will see that it is not as difficult as they are trying to imagine. We are confident about that.
How would you react to the allegation in some quarters that your national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, has relegated the issue of party discipline and party supremacy to the background because of his weak leadership style?
I don’t consider the allegation right. We have just had some series of meetings. The press thought it would go one way but it did not go the way of their projection. What I will advise you is to look at us fairly as a party and let what we do determine what you will feel. I don’t accept the theory. I want to say that this party is together and we are determined to move forward together.